Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient, and his attorney, Michael Evans, talk about Coats' case in 2013. (Andy Cross, Denver Post file)

Colo. Supreme Court case: employers’ marijuana rules

Coloradans could find out whether they have a right to use marijuana after the state Supreme Court took up a major case Tuesday that will clarify cannabis’ place in the law.

The case involves a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient named Brandon Coats, who was fired from his job at Dish Network in 2010 after testing positive for pot even though there is no evidence he was impaired on the job. Dish Network says its company policy prohibits marijuana use of any kind.


Brandon Coats vs. Dish Network:
A special report from The Cannabist

Coats vs. Dish, round 1: A hearing that will have major implications for marijuana and the workplace ended Tuesday with the state’s most esteemed justices mostly scratching their heads.

Watch the video: Here’s the full hour-long video of the first meeting of Coats and Dish in front of the Colorado Supreme Court

Top 20 tweets: How did Twitter react to Coats vs. Dish Network, and how the case could rewrite pot and employment laws

More companies are drug testing: Some employers are taking a tougher stance against workers’ drug use since recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado, according to a new workplace survey

Editorial: Why some Colorado employers still need no-marijuana policies

The Colorado AG backs Dish: The state attorney general’s office says Coloradans do not have a right to use marijuana off the job, siding with Dish in its firing of a medical-marijuana patient.

Marijuana is legal in Colorado, but should employers have the right to fire employees who test positive for pot use?

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Meghan Martinez, an attorney for Dish, said during arguments Tuesday that the case should not be an “endorsement” for medical marijuana. She said Dish’s zero-tolerance policy is clear.

“It doesn’t matter if he was impaired or not. It’s a violation,” Martinez said of Coats’ admitted marijuana use at home.

Mike Evans, an attorney for Coats, said it’s crucial that medical marijuana use be lawful under state law.

Michael Francisco, who represents the state, told the justices that declaring the use of medical pot lawful could leave employers liable.

Though the case focuses specifically on medical-marijuana use, it has drawn the attention of business groups and marijuana activists because the high court’s conclusions could also be applied to recreational marijuana use. That makes it something of a test case nationally for how employers can treat marijuana in an age of increasing tolerance for cannabis use.

“The eyes of the nation are watching as Colorado carries out an experiment by relaxing state laws on marijuana,” the Colorado attorney general’s office wrote in a brief filed on behalf of Dish Network.


Map: Colorado recreational marijuana shops and medical dispensaries


After being fired, Coats challenged his dismissal by arguing that a specific Colorado statute should have protected him from being fired for doing something that is lawful under state law. Two courts subsequently upheld the firing, concluding that marijuana’s illegal status federally means it can’t be considered “lawful.”

Instead of creating a right to marijuana, the courts ruled, Colorado’s medical-marijuana amendment merely created exemptions within the state’s criminal laws against pot and doesn’t guarantee the ability to use marijuana.

Coats appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which announced it would consider whether medical-marijuana use can be considered “lawful” for all purposes under state law and whether medical-marijuana patients have a right to use cannabis.

John Ingold: 303-954-1068, jingold@denverpost.com or twitter.com/johningold

This story was first published on DenverPost.com